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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Adding Value - Envisioning Strong Communities

I don't agree with Coyne's strictly market-based view of the world - I find that too much a two-dimensional approach to what's really a nuanced, multi-faceted social system.  Not everyone likes to commit sociology, I guess.

But I always gain something by reading him; new insight, new ideas to explore and of course, he just writes well.  Reading Coyne is an enjoyable experience; his writing adds value to my day.  For all these reasons, it's always a pleasure to promote his work; I want other people to share the enjoyment of his work that I do.

Why, though?  What's in it for me to share something positive with others?  On the surface, nothing; I'm not making any money from it.  You could say that if I post his stuff and link to my blog, I'm selfishly driving traffic - which is true, but that's not what motivates me.  In fact, at the sub-conscious level, the reverse is true.

It's not that I spread his Word to steal some of his brand market share; it's that at some level, I feel that serving as a sort of promotional wing-man to good writers, my brand increases by association.  This is the same reason that politicians will join a Political Party or the cool kids in school have groups that follow them; there's this sense that by associating with people that have general appeal, we increase our social status as well.   When you think about it, it's the same reason any charismatic leader from Ghandi to Martin Luther King Jr. to founders of faiths like Jesus or Mohammed inspire followings.

In behavioural sciences, this is called lekking.  In the crudest terms, males attempting to attract the best mates will seek out the most attractive male (who assumedly will attract enough attention to have freedom to choose the best female) to hang out with.  The evolutionary drive behind this is that once the alpha male has chosen, you'll stand a better chance of landing the next most attractive (and therefore healthiest/best adapted) female, furthering your chances of successfully carrying on your genes.  For the alpha male, the benefit is clear - the more wingmen he has, the more impressive he looks - strengthening his options.

For the female, the same is true - the more males you get in one place, the better your odds of selecting the cream of the crop.

Nonsense, you might say - humans are rational creatures, we make conscious choices; our behaviour isn't driven by genetically-transferred evolutionary motivation.  Which naturally explains why men in mid-life crises buy expensive cars, why profit-oriented people will waste money on poor financial management and why politicians/political consultants never do stupid things that will get them in trouble, right?  Why are people still getting law degrees when it's clear there's a glut in the law-practicing market?  The truth is, we aren't rational creatures that always act with our long-term best interests in mind.

Exactly.  Thanks, Ian.

But that's not the end of the story.  While it's true that not everyone is a social catalyst, adding value that others will strictly share, it's equally true that some catalysts have the ability to inspire others to create value as well, building on a theme.

I think it's telling that Coyne uses the Apple metaphor - it's the same one that Simon Sinek used to kick off his TED Talk about how great leaders inspire action.  Note that word - inspire.

It's unfortunate that many of the world's current crop of bosses feel that inspiration is too much of a hopey-changey frill concept, especially as we're suffering from a dearth of fresh ideas and new products/services to sell in the Knowledge Economy.  The reason this is so tragic is that it's the act of inspiration that catalyzes innovation.  

Inspiration can work in a couple of different ways - it can come in the form of challenging people to create solutions to problems with the pay-off being recognition, but it can also come in the form of sparking contributions with something that's so unbelievably cool and catchy that people want to be part of it in meaningful ways but adding their own value to the shared vision.

That's how memes manage to inspire people to spend ridiculous amounts of free time coming up with their own takes on a shared theme.  It's how using existing tools in new, shared-solution ways empowers people to contribute.  For the latter process to work, though, the catalysts need to connect with others and make them feel part of something greater - a process which is dependent on communication, trust and empathetic respect.

I've had the great fortune of attending two of the City of Toronto's Strong Neighbourhoods consultations, being held around the City with the intent of soliciting community ideas about how Toronto can do community (infrastructure, services, relationships) better.  The amount of effort the Strong Neighbourhoods team has put into the research and planning phase is palpable.  Their commitment to the process and depth of knowledge is comforting.  More than that, though, the infectious enthusiasm and excitement about sharing ideas from folk like Kimya and Fenicia make you want to be part of the process.

At the first session, when asked for input on things they could improve upon, it was suggested they add Twitter to the conversation.  By the next session, that was done.  Apart from growing the conversation, this simply act sent the message "we're walking the walk" - giving others the confidence that their time and participation would not be wasted.  

Communication.  Respect.  Trust - and as a result, value-added contributions.

To tie all these threads together; as Andrew Coyne states, the thing that inspires people to contribute isn't wealth (that inspires them to take away) or brand (which encourages them to share what's already been established) - it's vision.

With that in mind, riddle me this - what does Toronto mean to you?  What do you see Canada as a world-leader of?  What is the thread that weaves us together, the common ground we stand on?

At the moment, we don't have leaders who believe in vision, facilitation or shared solutions.  We also face a deficit of innovation and are bogged down by big, structural problems that folk can't seem to agree upon.

I'll leave the parallel-drawing to you.

You're waiting for a train...

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